“The people who will be wringing their hands are whistle-blowers who know about illegal activity because they were involved in it — they now have a very powerful incentive not to come forward unless and until they get immunity from the Justice Department,” Kappel said.
Still, several ethics attorneys suggested that there are not widespread violations of the revolving-door rules on the Hill.
“I think there’s a lot of people who leave and exercise good-faith judgment in complying with it. ... Most people are aware of it and try to follow it,” Brand said.
Both the House and Senate maintain public databases listing former Members and aides, along with the active dates of their lobbying bans.
In addition, both chambers’ ethics committees conduct periodic ethics briefings for staff, including details on the post-employment restrictions, and issue annual reminders on the rules.
Even if the Hampton saga is unusual by K Street standards, lobbyists said they are mindful of their revolving-door restrictions and that violations carry criminal penalties.
“We take it very seriously; the rules are clear,” said Bob Siggins, the former chief of staff to then-Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.). Both Siggins and Pomeroy joined the lobbying and law firm Alston & Bird after Pomeroy lost in the 2010 midterm elections.
Pomeroy is under a one-year ban from lobbying Congress, but Siggins faces no restrictions since he would have been forbidden only from lobbying Pomeroy’s Congressional office.
Still, Siggins said he wanted to make sure he was completely clear on the rules, so he sat down with advisers on the House Ethics Committee before he checked out of the Capitol.
“I wanted to hear from them that there wasn’t some little thing that I didn’t remember,” he said.
Pomeroy and others subject to a ban, Siggins added, are cautious. “There’s no wink and a nod. We know the penalties,” he said.
Kathryn Lehman, a top GOP lobbyist at Holland & Knight, has long been free of her cooling-off period. But her shop has made several hires this year and must work around new lobbyists’ restrictions, she said.
In one example, the firm’s new senior policy adviser, Kerry Feehery, is prohibited from lobbying the Senate.
“It’s almost a cultural issue because not only does the person who’s under the ban need to be aware, but really everybody else that you’re working with needs to be aware,” Lehman said. “People will ask Kerry to do stuff, and she’ll have to say or I’ll have to say, ‘She can’t do that.’ You don’t want to embarrass yourself, your firm or the people you used to work for.”
Lehman said one year seems like the appropriate ban, but that didn’t stop her from celebrating when her own cooling-off period ended.
“I had a happy hour the day my lobbying ban was up,” she said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.